Would you pick sex over chocolate?

Hell no. Let me say again, HELL NO.
Joan Sewell’s new book sure is turning heads. Teaching women about how to love their low libidos and I see why. While malestream media applauds her efforts, clearly the intervention must lie with those of us that really can’t relate to this low libido crap. This piece by Danielle Egan on Alternet breaks down some of the scientific and socio-cultural problems with her theory.

“Women’s sexual motivation is far more complex than simply the presence or absence of sexual desire,” writes Dr. Rosemary Basson of the B.C. Centre for Sexual Medicine in an intriguing 2005 Canadian Medical Association Journal paper. Diagnostic categories reflect a genitally focused model of sexual function, she says, while in the real world, “women describe overlapping phases of sexual response that blend the responses of mind and body.” So, many facets of women’s sexual function don’t jive with the diagnostic model.

Making women’s sexual desire a pathology ignores greater issues that might cause women to have low sex drives. She goes into a lot of the incentives that pharmaceutical companies have for marketing low sex drive as neurological. Also,

Hormones, like testosterone, can also increase a woman’s sexual arousal, but studies have also found that “environmental changes” also do the trick, including a new partner.
Basson contends that the reported prevalence of “hypoactive sexual disorder” in women of around 30 to 40 per cent may be wrong and misleading. She expects the numbers of women diagnosed to decline “when (or if) it becomes widely known that lack of spontaneous or initial desire” does not by itself mean there’s a sexual disorder.
Sewell herself briefly argues against the medicalization of women’s sexuality and comes to reject the notion that she’s abnormal. This is where her story could get interesting and educational for others, particularly considering the controversies in the medical field. But Sewell prefers the sugar-coated quick-fix Cosmo-friendly stuff, and when these tactics fail to rev up her libido, she falls back on the biology argument.

I mean the reality is that there are a variety of reasons that contribute to low sex drive such as low self esteem, bad partners, unrealistic expectations, repressed homosexuality and the list continues. But if material like this continues to surface and used to help unhappy women justify their crappy sex lives, well that just really sucks for them. *Feminist do it better.*
Like Egan says, have sex AND chocolate (and at the same time dammit!) and whatever else you want. It is all so good and it is all possible. Or maybe try and love yourself the way you are and not use flawed science to justify problems that could be cultural and interpersonal. I am not suggesting that some people aren’t more into sex than others, but don’t let them get off the hook that easy. Make ‘em work for it.

Join the Conversation

  • http://frogsdong.blogspot.com DBK

    Dark chocolate or milk?

  • kpsisu

    There were parts of the book that freaked me out. Like the sex contract thing- putting in writing ‘I will have sex/give head etc’ x numbers of time per week.
    Doesn’t that get us right back to Schlafly and the ‘there is no marital rape’ debacle? To me it seemed like the end result of her explorations in the book were… she still doesn’t like sex much or often but Kip does, so she has to sexually stimulate him x times per week, but the major stride is that she gets to decide how many times per week she stimulates him genitally, orally, by hand or visually.
    The section with the fake Oprah interview of a man with a too high sex drive that was wrecking his marriage is hilarious.

  • VT Idealist

    I’ve always had a low sex drive compared to most of my friends, and certainly when compared to media models of sexual norms. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me and I certainly don’t knock others for wanting more sex, it has just never done much for me. There may very well be a biological reason for my libido being so low, I’ve just never been interested enough in sex to do anything about it. I can (and have) enjoyed sex, but it’s nothing that I can’t live without or that I’m always craving. The point that I’m meandering around is that I don’t feel broken by not wanting a lot of sex. I’m also assuming I’m not the only one on the planet who feels this way. And yet it feels like the entire world is out to increase everyone’s sex drive. One of the cover stories of every women’s magazine is how to ‘bring back the spark’ and the tv is full of images of hypersexualized women. Not everyone enjoys every activity. If it makes sense that not everyone likes dancing, then wouldn’t it make sense that not everyone likes sex? (And, of course, not everyone likes chocolate, either.) I’ve gotten some funny looks from both male and female acquaintances when the subject of sex comes up and I answer that I really don’t feel the need to have sex. Accusations fly – I’m repressed, I’m frigid, I’m hyper-religious, I just haven’t met the right guy, blah blah blah. Sorry. End of rant.

  • http://jnbruns.blogspot.com ikkin

    I, in no way, consider sex to be a chore. I like to believe that in paradise, there will be someone who can have satisfying, good sex with me. But, as a life-long fat girl, I would just rather eat chocolate. I’ve always been fat, and when you’re this far in sex-debt, what’s another night alone with a bar of Godiva White Chocolate Raspberry?
    And I love the cover of the book, but I think I detest what’s on the inside. I guess it just can’t go both ways. I think it would have made an excellent cover for a pro-fat, fuck-you-skinny-bitches book, but such is not the case. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

  • JoanKelly

    Having known several life long fat girls who get laid, in a satisfying manner, plenty often (some more often than me, especially lately), AND as a queer girl who is more attracted to curvy women and not turned off by fat as a concept or a reality, I propose that no fat girls need choose between sex and chocolate.
    Also, I propose that we leave off of the whole fuck-you-skinny-bitches references. Fuck-you-fat-bitches sounds horrifying to me, not sure why fuck-you-skinny-bitches serves a better purpose.

  • manda

    I refuse to choose between good sex and good chocolate. In fact, one day I may decide to combine the two.

  • http://jnbruns.blogspot.com ikkin

    I was kind of generalizing the idea of a book hating upon a centralized group of skinny bitches rather than addressing a group of skinny bitches to fuck themselves. The title seemed more fitting for that type of thing, something written by Monique or Wendy Shanker.
    And it’s not like I choose, really, since I just eat the chocolate. It’s more like the sex doesn’t present itself. Like, it hides because it’s scared of the chocolate.
    And there is quite a bit of chocolate.

  • http://www.afadaproject.com puckalish

    first off, sex can be really really magnificent…
    chocolate can have a lot of negative implications for the people and the land in places where it’s grown (saw this exhibit at the field museum in chicago about it… crazy)…
    on that note, does anyone know of any good fair trade chocolate body butter kinda thing?

  • http://lawfairy.blogspot.com The Law Fairy

    I haven’t read the book, but from the description I honestly don’t see the problem. Why is it wrong to acknowledge that some of us have lower sex drives than the men we’re currently with? Since when did it become un-feminist to acknowledge that, for whatever reason (most likely because we live in a society that caters every moment of every day to every hint of a sexual WHIM of men’s, with little to no regard for what women might ACTUALLY want, other than of course to be hot little vixens for our men, what could be more exciting??)??
    I’m really troubled by the notion that there’s something inherently “better” about having a “normal” sex drive. For those who do, great, good for them. For those who don’t, why are we so quick to judge? I take this to be her point — as someone whose sexual desire has yo-yo’d even more than her weight, I’ve been on both sides of this spectrum (I won’t say both ends, but definitely both sides) and I have to say, I felt much more socially “comfortable” when I was on the side of wanting more sex than on the side of wanting less. I strongly suspect this is because there’s a bias, among feminists as well as plain old sexists, toward thinking that wanting sex is itself a positive “good.” To be perfectly blunt, I *almost* think the opposite — to be clear, in the abstract, sex is great and fantastic and everyone should have whatever level of desire they’re comfortable with. But in our society, sex is still oppressive to women, and it’s not anti-sex to acknowledge this. You can certainly derive good and pleasure from something imperfect — but it’s horrifically unfair to call people “stuck up” or “frigid” or “disordered” just because they’re suffering from the ill effects of living in an anti-woman society.
    I’m probably addressing my comments to no one in particular. But this subject gets me worked up, in case you couldn’t tell ;)

  • legallyblondeez

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with a low libido. It can be caused by so many things, some you can “fix” and some that you can’t or don’t want to change. I do think that couples with huge libido gaps have to work things out somehow, so without having read the book I can’t tell if her solution would work for anyone else. It seems like agreeing to sex you don’t want to have, especially a quota, would set up some resentment on the part of the unmotivated lover and maybe lead to a decrease in quality (defined as both parties being “into it”), but maybe that’s just me.
    I do think that the stereotype of women’s libidos being generally lower than men’s is harmful to everyone, though. In another case of “what about teh menz,” a man with low libido can feel very emasculated by the idea that “real” men are constantly slavering for teh sexxx. Not to mention that women are pathologized as frigid as a group, and the exceptions as sluts or sex maniacs.
    ikkin, I know that *good* sex does not always present itself, but depending upon your standards sex is almost always available from somewhere. I’m not saying you should lower those standards, but I would hazard a guess (as someone who has been clinically obese in the past) that being fat is not an absolute bar to sexual gratification.
    Still, I might choose chocolate.

  • legallyblondeez

    puckalish, I don’t know of any good fair trade/organic chocolate that’s good for consumption simultaneous with sex, but if you find any let me know. And thanks for bringing up the social consequences of cocoa production.
    /taking a big bite of Green & Black’s organic orange dark chocolate

  • oenophile

    The problem with assuming that everyone should have a great sex life is that it makes people who don’t feel like crap.
    The problem with assuming that a woman’s problems with arousal are “low self esteem, bad partners, unrealistic expectations, repressed homosexuality and the list continues,” is that it assumes that the woman, if she were not screwed up in the head, would have a better sex life. Off to the psychologist for you, missy!
    Yes, everyone deserves, merely by the virtue of being human, a good sex life. We all deserve bodies that work well – in all respects, not just sexually – but there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that our bodies do not work the same way or equally as well.
    The only anti-woman thing would be to deny treatment to women who want to change the way they are, or to try to tell them that they should just suck it up and live that way.
    I agree with Law Fairy that it’s very difficult to navigate our society with a low sex drive. Women with sex drives that are higher than they are comfortable with are not hesitant about outright mocking me for this or telling me that I’m messed up in the head.
    It is unbelievably frustrating to have your sanity denied to you, merely for expressing a knowledge of your body and your mind.
    Chocolate for me. I feel really lousy if I don’t have it every day. ;) It’s a horrible addiction, actually.

  • oenophile

    PS. Generally, any issue is only a problem when it intereferes with your life. Alcohol is a perfect example.
    Likewise, if a low libido isn’t interfering with your life and you are comfortable with that facet of yourself, why fix it? The other side if that if your libido is bothersome (regardless of level), then why not try to work on it, whether the remedy be medical or psychological?

  • Genny

    This revives a debate I never like, the use of the “real women” qualifier. As in “real women have curves” well, I don’t have a waist and wear a 30A, guess I’m an adolescent boy. “Real women have high sex drives” well, yes and no, as anyone reading the comments can see. I think the message we should take away from this is that sweeping generalizations do no one good, and only encourage infighting. Just like we should support our sisters in search of a good sex life, we should also support our sisters in search of a good movie, comfy pants and fair trade organic chocolate to share an evening with.
    Just my two cents. And I’ll share chocolate or sex stories with anyone here, I’ve got a decent amount of passion for either one. My boyfriend and I occasionally indulge in a pint of Half Baked in post coital bliss.

  • annajcook

    It is unbelievably frustrating to have your sanity denied to you, merely for expressing a knowledge of your body and your mind.
    Oenophile, I like the way you phrased this.
    I think this is the core frustration I have with the media obsession with women’s sexuality. Collectively, women are always at the center of any debate over our cultural expressions of sexuality. Are women having too much sex? Too little sex? Is it the right kind or wrong kind of sex? And the mainstream media are constantly expressing anxiety about newly discovered “trends,” like the recent panic over “hooking up” on college campuses. Anxiety about adolescent and pre-marital sexual activity almost always focuses on women and the impact the sexual behavior will have on their physical and psychological well-being.
    While, as a feminist, I appreciate the willingness to speak about female sexuality, per se, I don’t appreciate that most of the cultural talk that goes on is anxious and negative, rather than relaxed and positive. Girls and women should be given the resources and opportunities to explore their independent sexuality and come to a firm sense of who they are as sexual beings–and affirmed in that self-knowledge! Instead, we are constantly kept off-balance by having our “sanity questioned” when the latest self-improvement book or sociological study or newspaper report is released.
    I have also noticed more recently how absent a substantive discussion of male sexuality is from any of these conversations. This is maybe kind of a “duh” observation, but it is increasingly frustrating to me that we only seem to think more substantively about men’s sexual selves when we are discussing sexual orientation. The assumptions we have about men’s interest in sex are still pretty much stuck in variations of the stereotype that men (straight or gay)want to fuck all the time, with as little emotional or social commitments as possible. This seems shallow, and obviously at odds with most feminist understandings of male and female sexuality, gender, and the desire for equal and fulfilling relationships.

  • Interrobang

    Would I pick sex over chocolate? Hell yes, about twenty four or five days out of every twenty eight. I really only like chocolate when I’m menstruating heavily, but I can’t go for more than a couple days without having an orgasm, unless I want to be climbing the walls. Since I too seem to be afflicted by a shortage of partner sex, well, there’s always masturbation!
    Now, if I had to pick between sex or writing, _that_ would be a tough decision…

  • oenophile

    Thank you, Anna J Cook. :)
    I completely agree that we are constantly being thrown off-balance by who we “should” be instead of who we are – and acknowledging the latter as either intrinsically good or something that can be improved, if the desire to so improve is there.
    Well, interrobang, some of us have never had orgasms, so we eat ridiculous amounts of chocolate. Supposedly, it’s good for your skin, heart, and helps athletes recover after long performances. (Chocolate, that is.)

  • http://www.suekatz.com www.suekatz.com

    These things change over time and circumstance. There have been periods of my life – my 40s for example – when I just decided to put my energies elsewhere. Afterall, an intense sexual connection can be a demanding beast. As I found out in my mid-50s. Oo la la.

  • Nic

    I think there’s sort of this expectation in pop culture that women always should have high libidos and always want to have sex (as opposed to in the past, where it didn’t really matter if we wanted it, it was our “duty” goddammit).
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong about not particularly caring for sex, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wishing you could screw all the live-long day! As long as you’re doing what you want to do and not what you think you’re expected to do, it’s great.
    I love sex. I don’t particularly like chocolate, actually.
    I completely forgot the rest of what I was going to say. Damn. Never mind.

  • lilams

    It hasn’t been that long since women could talk openly about their sexual drives, needs, and desires. Maybe that is why some take it to the extreme and hate on women with lower sex drives? With time all sex drives will be accepted :)

  • Stephen

    I have to say that I agree with other posters here…sexuality is complex and varied and it is more than a little hurtful to say that someone’s lower sex drive comes from “low self esteem, bad partners, unrealistic expectations, repressed homosexuality”.
    Half of all women (and men) have lower than average sex-drives. Does this make them broken?

  • alicepaul

    grrr, did anyone see Dan Savage’s take on this book/concept? It should be in the Village Voice archives.
    Shorter version: Females naturally have lower sex drives than males. The solution: Women should either expect infidelity or else “cheerfully” (direct quote) fuck, give handjobs, blowjobs, and otherwise pleasure our menz EVEN IF/WHEN WE DON”T WANT TO.
    When will the sex positive crowd see Savage for what he is: a rabid misogynist who just so happens to have progressive views about queer rights because it suits his personal best interests?
    Someone help me out and find the link if you can.

  • oenophile

    Alice Paul,
    I had never read what you’re talking about, but I presume this is it:
    It has such vile tidbits as this:
    “One thing that hasn’t changed in the wake of Sewell’s book is my advice to women with low libidos: You can have strict monogamy or you can have a low libido, ladies, but you can’t have both. If monogamy is a priority, you’re gonna have to put out, i.e., regular vaginal intercourse and the occasional tide-him-over handjob and/or blowjob, cheerfully given. If all you wanna do is sit there and eat chocolate, you’re gonna have to turn a blind eye to lap dances and mistresses and happy endings and the return of trade, i.e., gay guys giving NSA head to straight guys.”
    …because that’s what happens when you allow men to think they are entitled to lots and lots of sex.
    Thing is, most low-libido women I know (myself being the prime example) LOVE physical contact. I’m the biggest cuddle whore going… but men don’t see cuddling as the reciprocal of traditional sexuality.
    More than that, they don’t see monogamy as a mutual bargain. I’ve dated a LOT of men who have not wanted to be exclusive, but who would have thrown a fit if I were to be running about with other men. Monogamy doesn’t appeal, necessarily, but it’s the price one pays for having a wife who doesn’t run about with other men.
    Nauseating. Thanks, Alice Paul, for having me look that up before bed. Ugh.

  • oenophile

    Half of all women (and men) have lower than average sex-drives. Does this make them broken?
    LMAO to Stephen… because you hit the nail on the head.
    My final take on the subject is that, as a woman who has had a LOT of physical problems, I’m used to hearing that they are psychosomatic. I’m used to hearing that it’s my head that’s the problem, not my body. Funny thing is, there’s ALWAYS an underlying physical issue. I’ve been told that my fractured leg was psychosomatic — but go figure, my messed-up girl’s head managed to come up with a femoral break that showed up on an X-ray, all by itself. Likewise, the breast tumor I had a few years back was deemed to be “normal” by a doctor who wanted to play golf at 3:50 pm on a Friday afternoon instead of dealing with the teenager in front of him with a tumor (that ended up doubling in size before it was removed….).
    Talk to any woman who has been sick, and she’ll have stories about doctors who tell her that it’s all in her head. I live for the day when we can accept women’s bodies as being different — and not treat the ends of the bell curve as being abnormal, but only treat something if it is a problem.
    (I don’t mean to equate any sort of sex drive with cancer, FYI; just pointing out that many people see women’s physical problems as mental ones, which is incredibly patronising and does nothing to address the underlying issue.)

  • Scarlet

    I think many posts on this thread have been really interesting and I firmly believe the problem lies in the tireless “normativity” at play in our culture. So many people spend their lives worrying about being “abnormal”. Sure, the definition of “normality” has been changing quite a while lately. But it’s the very concept of “normal” vs. “abnormal” that’s at the core of the problem here. If we could just acknowledge that different things work for different people, regardless of norms, the world would truly be a happier place.
    That being said, I also have to point out that your sex drive can vary wildly from one moment to the next. Personally, I can be sex-crazed one day and totally uninterested the next. It depends on my mood, stress level, etc.
    But why choose between sex and chocolate when they mix so well anyway? ;o)

  • Vervain

    VTIdealist – You’re definitely not alone. I like sex well enough, but it’s not the powerful motivator in my life that I think it is for some people. I average 1.5 partners a decade, and it’s not because I can’t find one, it’s because most of the time I can’t be bothered to look for one. I’m fairly content to be a loner. I don’t feel “broken” either, but I’m not so arrogant as to assume that all women are just like me–some might be, but not ALL. Which is why I think Ms. Sewell is an idiot.
    My libido has fluctuated as a result of various things–hormones, medications, etc. but I never felt like it was better when it was up than when it was down. It’s always been just…me. Additionally, sex to me isn’t just physical, or all about having an orgasm–sometimes I derive far more sexual satisfaction out of making some poor, lucky person writhe and moan in ecstasy. That’s just fun.
    As far as excess weight being a bar to sex, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I got hit on far more at 140lbs than I did at 125 (I think it was the boobs, honestly). However, I do currently fall into the “overweight and single” category, and I can’t deny it does effect your self-esteem when you tackle the dating scene–you tend to attribute every rejection to being “fat and ugly” even if that’s not actually the reason. Lack of self-esteem will make sex less appealing, and may actually be more of a bar to successfully forging a relationship with someone than physical appearance. Our culture and its strict standards of beauty can make things pretty tough…
    Ultimately, I’d prefer NO sex to mechanical, chorelike sex. Ugh. I hold sex in much higher esteem than I do brushing my teeth, and wouldn’t want the two to become comparable aspects of my daily routine. Like the Victorians (who weren’t as repressed as people think) I value quality over quantity.
    I like chocolate. I like sex. I don’t think I could choose one over the other, as I’d hate to think of going through life without either one. Combining the two…well, that’d be just plain decadent, wouldn’t it?

  • SDstuck

    People have varied sex drives, this does not always mean there is something wrong with them on either end of the spectrum. There can be underlying medical issues, sometimes it just is not a priority or they simply do not have a high or low level of interest.
    I have a real issue with sweeping claims that all women don’t like sex. Not only is it wrong it starts to go into that fundie conservative territory about women. That all women don’t like sex, you have to convince them to do it and they only get some sort of reward out of having kids or the security of traditional marriage junk.
    It is that false logic that women don’t like sex that allows people to vilify women who do as deviant or whores.
    There also seems to be a level of approval in some circles with women allowing themselves to be exploited for their sexuality. The same people exhibit a disgust for women who embrace their sexuality but control the situation.
    The desired idea in some circles is that women are not sexual beings but manpulating them into complying in controlling ways is ok. Your sexuality is permitted as long as it is controlled by a male somewhere in the process?

  • liontamer

    Alicepaul: Dan Savage was being sarcastic. He argued that no one would value his opinion so he would leave it to his readers to respond. Here’s the link to the next column http://www.villagevoice.com/people/0712,savage,76132,24.html

  • EG

    Yeah, I don’t buy Savage’s back-pedalling. He’s been saying similar crap for years. I agree with Alice Paul; much as I often enjoy his writing style, Savage has no insight into or empathy for women, and has almost nothing but disdain for anybody with a low libido. One thing he doesn’t address: if you’re a woman with a low libido who’s not into polyamory, and you have to choose between a man who cheats on you, and having sex when you don’t want to…why would you bother to have a man at all? What, exactly, is in it for you?
    He may have backed and filled about women with high libidos, but that doesn’t begin to address his nastiness toward women with low libidos.
    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is this assumption that whatever your libido is, is what it is for life. That’s bullshit. People cycle through different phases; sometimes they have ragingly active sex drives, sometimes they could take it or leave it; sometimes they actively don’t want to have sex. Life is long, if you’re lucky, and how you feel at 25 isn’t necessarily the same as how you feel at 31, in my experience, to say nothing of how you might feel at 40.

  • http://jnbruns.blogspot.com ikkin

    On the subject of Dan Savage:
    As someone who reads alot of material on human sexuality, I do like several pieces he has done of the female anatomy and the shame women are usually bred to associate with it, and how men don’t realize that sort of thing. But can we really expect a gay man, someone who lives their sex life entirely separated from women, to have great sympathy regarding the complexity of a woman’s sex drive? And this is not to say that men cannot have a complicated sex drive, but that is the sort of thing that could affect Dan Savage directly. I guess what I’m saying is that Dan Savage is a misogynist, and he probably doesn’t realize it. Does that make him ignorant? Kind of, yeah.

  • blair

    Why is it wrong to acknowledge that some of us have lower sex drives than the men we’re currently with? Since when did it become un-feminist to acknowledge that, for whatever reason (most likely because we live in a society that caters every moment of every day to every hint of a sexual WHIM of men’s, with little to no regard for what women might ACTUALLY want, other than of course to be hot little vixens for our men, what could be more exciting??)??
    My impression (though I haven’t read the book) is that the author doesn’t address the social aspects of why women might have low libidos. It’s just more of the idea that women just naturally have lower libidos. There was an interview with the author, I think maybe in Salon, where she basically said she thought women with high libidos were faking it. It’s one thing to acknowledge that sex is more important and necessary in the lives of some people than others…and that there is nothing wrong with that. People are different and it is really only an issue whan partners are radically incompatible. It’s another thing to suggest that women are just biologically programmed to have lower libidos, and those who have high libidos are just faking it to please men.

  • IamKateness

    My sex drive fluctuates but I am generally on the high end of the scale. What I find frustrating is how I seem to be judged on the fact I’m young and have a high libido. People automatically assume I sleep around, or am not faithful to my boyfriend because we’re in a long distance relationship. Just because someone has a high libido does not mean they have no self control. That was kind of off topic but I love how people commenting here both comment on the actual article and share real life frustrations that are related. Thank you all commenters for keeping me informed on what other people are going through/have gone through.

  • Sappho

    “Half of all women (and men) have lower than average sex-drives.”
    Is that statistically possible? I guess it is, but then it strikes one that “average” is not quite the same as “normal,” is it?
    I think my sex drive probably falls both in the lower than average and the lower than normal range. This doesn’t bother me in the least, and counter to what some suggested above, I don’t think life is harder for women with lower sex drives. It plays into historical norms and stereotypes perfectly, that I should be demure and sexually unaggressive, like a good woman who is not sexually loose or immoral. This is highly socially acceptable, I think.
    If anything, the only challenge is that it makes me feel like a bad feminist, not a bad woman, because I start to wonder if my passiveness regarding sex isn’t a deep internalization of conservative norms about women and sexuality.
    That could really be the truth of it, too. I have other conservative reactions toward women and sexuality – I detest the trend of women to hypersexualize themselves as a form of feminism. Sure, I think some people who are actually critical feminists take that on consciously and intentionally, who argue with me about reclaiming or acknowledging sexuality that was repressed for centuries. But I think that was a cool idea that really backfired for the feminist movement, because it has led to greater and even more popular objectification of women. I don’t want to be sexy, I want people to look me in the eye and think about what I say. And if feminism and progress for women is all about sexual imagery, then it makes my quest for social and intellectual legitimacy that much harder.
    On the other hand, if I had a biological or hormonal need for a lot more sex, maybe I would feel differently. We all seem to be on a quest for legitimating ourselves, seeking to be confident in the appropriateness of our own instincts, sanctioned or acknowledge by society as a whole. But if we are all different and have different priorities, the question is how can we achieve that legitimacy together?

  • Kimmy

    I dunno. I think it’s possible to be sexy and legitimate at the same time. I mean, some of the women at work tell me how good I look when I wear certain outfits, or that they like my hair when I cut it, or whatever. But nobody’s going to keep me around for my hair. It’s the fact that I know the database and can get the prescious data out that keeps me at this desk.
    I know that in some cases (and particularly with some sexists) any sign of sexual attractiveness can seem to overwhelm everything else. But I don’t think it’s necessarily true in all situations. In a personal, day-to-day way (looking at personal interactions between women and those at work, home, or recreation rather than looking at societal messages), I’d say it’s probably not even half situations.
    But then, I may lead a charmed life. I don’t know.

  • http://theriomorph.blogspot.com Theriomorph

    What’s interesting to me, reading comments here and elsewhere about this book, is that virulent anger is often directed at women who say they have high sex drives.
    Which, I’m sorry to say, mirrors my experience in many ‘formally’ feminist contexts – sexuality is meant to be erased, downplayed, and devalued as something scary and oppressive. I call it the ‘Beige Syndrome’: an implication that real feminists have no sexuality – a weird Fascist conflation of inoffensive neutrality of identity with good politics.
    Simultaneously, illustrating a different chasm within schools/areas of feminism, any challenge to the sex industry becomes ‘oppressive’ of sex workers and their sexuality (which is not, the majority of the time in the majority of the world, freely chosen), even when the challenge in question directly speaks to protecting sex workers. The feminist who is anti porn industry is a Prude Who Hates Sex Workers (and, the implication often is, just needs to get laid).
    As a monolithic media culture and a complex, interacting system of more reality-based micro-cultures, we are completely deranged about sexuality – within feminism, I think, as much as outside of it. Personal defensiveness (in either direction) abounds, extrapolation from the personal to everyone else is endemic, and to my mind, what gets lost is any effort toward creating an environment in which diversity of drive and reasons for it is accepted not only as normal, but as NOT A GENDERED ISSUE.
    What flips me out about this book is the biological essentialism serving traditional gender stereotypes, and how largely absent that issue is from the many conversations about it.
    I did a post about this a little while ago – it contains the Dan Savage link, the Alternet article about the book, and a link to a great post by Echidne about which women’s health studies get press and which don’t (and why).
    oh for god’s sake part fifty six million: sexist news lite
    My two cents. It’s a fraught subject.

  • subgrrl8

    good comments.
    i have to say that any media attention to my libido makes me *nervous*. just seeing all the articles over the past ten years, it is highly suspect that an establish sexist industry would be telling me how to be. that’s why, of course, i have retreated into my own world, which is devoid of all network news, all cable news, and all major newspapers and magazines. i read progressive magazines and local alt papers, and i read you wonderful bloggers to be up to date on what the patriarchy wants from me now. but at this point in my life, i need to be spending more time focused on my life and my goals than wallowing in self-pity imposed on me by a society that doesn’t give a shit about my health, mental, physical or emotional.
    i have a low libido. it isn’t non-existent, but compared to the “norm”, it is probably low. i have always had a low libido. i tend toward slow, long sex sessions because it takes me a while to get in the mood. i have a concentration thing- i have to actively concentrate on orgasming to achieve it. and this is just the way i have always been. that may and probably will change when i hit my 30s, but so what. it is what it is, and i and my partner have to deal with that.
    and as for it being only physical or only mental, wrong. it is also situational. i notice that since i work 3rd shift and my partner works 1st, my libido is even lower. why? probably my weird sleep schedule combined with not seeing him too often even though we live together.
    as another poster said above, while i love great sex, it is not the be-all end-all of my interests in life. if i spent all my time fucking, when would i write poetry? make cakes? watch good films? work on films? read novels? go for walks? see my friends?
    balance is crucial. the balance for me includes probably way less sex than other people have, but more cuddling, more conversation, more foodgasms (omg how i love food!), more cribbage playing, more companionship. that’s the balance i like to have. and i am Just One Woman, not The Whole Of Feminism.
    isn’t awesome to be an individual? and be able to make individual choices based on your own preferences, and be able to choose a partner that collides with your own ideas about your life? :)
    re: the fat thing. i will always be considered fat, no matter how thin i get, because i haven’t been a size 6 since i was 10. people like me, well, we tend to internalize because even when we were *fit* and *in shape*, we were still fat, and everyone on earth seems to think it’s their duty to remind me of this fact. it has taken a really really long time to get over the internal stigmas i carried around, and even longer to get myself in with a crowd that appreciated people of all sizes. even longer to find a life partner who wasn’t going to criticize my weight all the time… and now i have one, and he’s awesome, and we have great great sex. why? because it is predicated on pleasure, mutual pleasure, and connecting and just plain having fun/play. doesn’t matter that we’re both big enough to take the house down with us if it weren’t more sturdily built. ;) not one whit.
    so, fat is not an excuse unless you make it one, honeys. because let me tell you, it is much more about who you are meeting and who you are inside than it is about what size you wear.

  • nausicaa

    Re Dan Savage:
    What bugs me about him is not his attitude towards women, but rather his very childish view of the role of sex in relationships. His entire ethos is that you MUST have ALL your sexual desires fulfilled in a relationship, and if you don’t, then (as long as you have communicated your demands to your partner and he/she has refused to comply) you are justified in cheating or in breaking up. Grr.

  • oenophile

    Ditto that, nausicaa.
    It would be unreasonable for women (stereotypically) to expect immediate gratification of every emotional demand: meeting the parents, a long hug and a home-cooked meal after a bad day — but somehow, it’s reasonable for (usually men) to expect the same sexually.

  • http://www.agonist.org Anonymous

    Interesting conversation. A mismatch in sex drives is like any other mismatch in a relationship – it can cause problems. I recall years ago talking to a long time family shrink, who said that in his experience, the second most common reason for breakups was different standards of neatness (#1 was infidelity).
    Sex is part of relationships. The partner who wants less sex (and this can be male) generally has a power advantage in the relationship, according to the reseach as I recall it.
    And if partners can’t work it out, it can cause problems. The person who doesn’t get as much sex as they want feels the other person doesn’t care about their needs; the person who doesn’t want as much sex feels pushed to do something they don’t want to do, and put upon.
    Replace “clean up” in the above and you have a similiar dynamic with housework, etc…
    Anyway, I’ve cleaned more than I wanted to in a relationship to make it work; I’ve had sex on occasion when it wasn’t my first choice (yeah, I’m a guy and I’m not always “on”) and I’ve gone to movies and restaurants I would never have chosen if I were alone. In most cases (well, ok, not the cleaning) I wound up enjoying myself anyway, because I was doing something with someone I cared about. If I found I really hated it, often, then it meant the relationship was dying.
    Historical note: women weren’t always considered the gender with less interest in sex – Elizabethan English, for example, considered women to have a far larger sex drive than men, and it was a constant running joke.